January 8th, 2018
I would bet that if you asked any African Safari Guide what their favourite animal was, it would be a Leopard. Whilst they are not particularly rare creatures they are the most elusive of the big cats, and arguably one of the most beautiful animals you will see in Africa. Anthony certainly makes spotting a leopard almost essential to any safari, and in the days when we both did guiding work I recall spending whole days doing nothing but tracking leopard. We can truthfully say that we have never had a safari without finding one of these wonderfully spotted cats; I put this down to luck, whereas Anthony believes it to be pure skill: I will leave you to decide — perhaps a combination of both?
In the early days, when we received the green light to embark on “Project Emakoko” Anthony was given the task of finding the perfect location for the Lodge. There were several elements which had to be considered. The site had to be away from the flight paths of both airports; it had to be central to both airports for the convenience of clients; it had to be as far as possible from the urban sprawl; and most importantly of all, it needed to be on a river and in a beautiful wildlife area. Anthony spent numerous nights on the border of Nairobi National Park and approaching various landowners, all to no avail. He was beginning to despair when suddenly, by crawling down a cliff, he found the wonderful little Eden which has become the final location for The Emakoko. Above all, the little valley not only ticked all the logistical and practical boxes, it was the perfect environment for leopard you could possibly find. The plot was well concealed, had running water, wonderful trees with superb predator view points and good places to store prey, and best of all, there was a variety of suitable leopard food. The Chelsea or Manhattan of the leopard world, you could say!
It took years before the wildlife moved back onto our site and finally towards the end of last year our ‘visible’ leopard visits had become more frequent. So frequent that we ended up naming them, yes I know — how can you do that to such a majestic cat — but we needed to know who was who! Our senior female — “Ema"-killed one of our resident Impala in the car park and for a week she could be seen by anyone who was interested. Finally her beautiful young cub “Koko” made an appearance. “Koko” is not in the least afraid of vehicles and on one occasion walked up to Anthony’s car and spent a good few minutes examining the vehicle from all angles and peering up into the windows.
Mother and daughter for the last few months of 2017, felt at home enough to make use of the lodge facilities and not rush away when discovered. These two big cats could be seen frequently strolling around, frightening the Buffalo grazing in front of the Lodge into absolute fits and sending them crashing off into the river. A few weeks ago, we had an extraordinary and breathtaking incident. Once again “Ema” killed an Impala in the car park and she and “Koko” stayed in the car park for a week feeding off their kill. During the day they slept off their meals in a tree directly opposite the lodge creating wonderful photographic opportunities. Our guests could eat breakfast and lunch watching these beautiful animals, a very rare sight indeed.
Four days later Anthony and I were sitting in the bar having a nightcap before turning in when suddenly we saw a shadow crossing the bridge. Not sure what we had seen we sat frozen on our barstools, when suddenly “Koko," the cub, appeared outside the office of the lodge, easy to see but difficult to photograph in the dim light, and my video shows only the lamp in the lounge! She paused for a few seconds, gazed around in the way cats do, and then was gone back into the night, whilst we were left congratulating ourselves on a remarkable sighting.
From that moment on it was very clear that The Emakoko had been given the ‘seal of approval’ by these two and were seen daily on the lodge grounds. They soon became a big part of the ‘furniture’ of the lodge and we all became quite nonchalant about having them around.
However, they started to become a little too bold and when I was taking the children to school before the end of term, coming down the hill “Koko” popped her head out of a bush about 10 feet away, which is about 50 feet too close for comfort. She and her mother had made another kill and decided to bring it down the hill to a position far too close to the lodge for safety — in my view. I was too surprised to do anything other than move the kids down the hill to the car, but stopped at the office to pass on what felt like a perfectly normal instruction “The girls have killed something and it is hanging above the kitchen — please can you remove the corpse before our morning arrivals come in, thank you.”
That afternoon, once the leopards had departed the staff dragged the body away to a safe distance, well away from the Lodge. The following morning Anthony was horrified to meet Koko in precisely the same place where I had seen her the previous morning. She and her Mother had brought their kill back to the exact same place. This could have become serious, but I am happy to say that when the kill was again removed and put at a distance, both of them got the message and did not return.
Since that time, we continue to see these two frequently and the Baboon bark is always an indication that they are very close. It is wonderful and magical to have two such beautiful creatures feel so at home in our valley and whilst we do not want to discourage them, there is indeed a very fine line that we must not cross! That being said, it was wonderful to hear them calling very close to our house in the early hours of 2018, we very much look forward to following their lives over the next year.